3D Printed DIY Night Vision Wins the Internet Today

I’m a huge fan of the DIY laser ablation scene, I have been wanting to put together my own X-Y laser CNC cutter for a long time.  Something else that has really come a long way in the last 2-3 years is 3d printing — like a CNC in reverse!  Instead of ablating material from something, you are “printing” shapes from a CAD program, which is pretty bad ass if you ask me!

This isn’t particularly about 3D printing, per se, but it is about a 3D printed object — a quite outstanding Instructable by user Mattygyver92 called OpenScope.  MattyGyver92 walks us through his process in a particularly awesome Instructable that I had to share.

Side note:  Holy sh*t have 3d printers come a long, long way already:

That particular one above is about $500 bucks. This one is $1299. Quite a difference in features and quality, but more than anything, printing size and software:

Below here is the famous Makerbot Replicator.  This is a Rolls-Royce quality printer that I have seen in action, and I approve.  But, it’s $2500 bucks:

Now, back down in my price range — $449:

About double what I can afford — $889:

Now, in the CRAZY affordable 3d printing game, XYZprinting’s da Vinci Mini, at $274.99:

The Einstart-S at $374.99:

And cheapest in the class of 3d printers I thought were worth a damn, Alunar’s M505 kit at around $267:

Please, if you decide to check out one of these 3d printers, make sure to do your research.  What I find is that they don’t differ with respect to price of media, just like the old adage of paper printer toner being as expensive as the freaking printer itself, some of the print media for the 3d printers is some expensive stuff.  Do your research!  Caveat emptor!

How to Fold A Drawing Plate or Light Plot for Easy Shipping and Storage!

Whoa! It’s pre-tattoos JimOnLight!


When I first started up the JimOnLight YouTube Channel, I posted a video on how to fold a drawing — when I was in grad school, my mentor Mary Tarantino taught me perhaps one of the coolest skills in all of the world when dealing with paper plots and scenic or lighting drawings.  Check it out for yourself, you’ll never go back to shipping shit in a mailer tube again!

(unless of course you would rather spend the extra money, or you have a plate set that is more than 20 pages and you don’t want to fold them all…)

This method works on any type and any size of plate up to ARCH E, ANSI E, and A0, and will get your drawing small enough to fit in a manilla envelope or folder for transport and shipping!

A DIY Boba Fett Helmet Lamp!

This one’s dedicated to my buddy Greg.


This is a fun project, especially if you’re A) not married, B) married to someone who appreciates the finer points of Star Wars nerdery, or C) not married — the Boba Fett DIY Lamp Project!

As long as you remember to clean the sweat and shame from your personal Boba Fett helmet, this project should go just fine for you.  Remember though, take the helmet OFF before you drill the holes.

This awesome project comes from Instructables user Major League Mods — check out their other projects, there’s some fun ones!




“No matter how sure I am, I never bet the Fettman.”


A DIY LED VU-Meter Necktie!


I am never, ever disappointed by Make.  Not in seven years of doing this blog have I ever come across a story on Make that wasn’t the coolest thing I had ever seen, and I read somewhere in the neighborhood of eleventy million blog posts a week.  Well, it might be more in the tennedy million range, but you get the point.  Make is wicked.

Check this out — Maker and awesome duderino Collin Cunningham is sporting a cool LED tie in this video, which also consequently shows you how to make the tie!  It’s a breakaway tie that is modeled on the prison guard-style of tie, velcro in the rear of the neck; there’s also a microphone in the knot that feeds back into the LED controller, giving you a walking VU Meter!  As you can imagine if you know me, mine would be peaked all day long.  This system is built on Adafruit‘s wearable electronics platform called FLORA — from the website:

FLORA is Adafruit’s wearable electronics platform. We designed it from the ground up to provide the best experience for Adafruit’s community of makers, hackers, crafters, artists, designers and engineers. It’s built around the Atmega32u4 chip, which has built-in USB support. No pesky special cables or extra parts for programming, just plug it in and get started making the wearables project of your dreams! Works on Windows and Mac.

The FLORA is extremely beginner-friendly– it is difficult to destroy the FLORA by connecting a battery backwards due to polarized connector and protection diodes. The onboard regulator means that even connecting a 9V battery will not result in damage or tears.

The Ampli-Tie!

This FLORA device is pretty cool!  If you’re a tinkerer like me who loves to solder stuff and blow up all kinds of delicate circuitry because you are an occasional dumbass, this thing is the way to go, with its onboard voltage regulator!  Check this out:

This entire project is pretty much given to the world free at Adafruit’s website (the Adafruit Learning System, which is pretty awesome!); you can make your own Ampli-Tie to wear around the conferences!  Go check out Make, one of the coolest places for nerds on Planet Earth!

Taser Not Good Enough? How About the Taser Sword?!


So the story generally goes like this — guy takes a taser and a sword, guy makes a creation that is way cooler than either of those two parts on their own.  Don’t believe me?  Watch:

As of me writing this post, the maker of this video had over 1,120,000 views on his YouTube video.  That is crazy!  User jonathonj9969 on YouTube posted the video of his lethal/non-lethal combo on Reddit, and that obviously went batsh*t crazy, too.

As you would expect, though.  Right?

Thanks, Viral Videos!


DIY Geekery: Circuit Board Lights!

So I was wandering around Camden Town when I stumbled across Cyberdog. First off, this store is futuristic flamboyant and flat-out fabulous. If you’re in London, and looking for a scene Japanese Street Fashion, or are a fan of neon colors, reflective fabrics, the Jetsons, UV, electronics, or kinky alien high priestess bustiers, this is the place for you:

While wandering, I came across some wicked cool light fixtures! They were selling rectangular prism lantern-style fixtures made out of repurposed circuit boards. Not only were they really awesome, they looked quite easy to make! Taking apart old electronics is already an exciting hobby, and I’m always coming up with new projects to reuse the “waste” on.  Here’s a small gallery of the lamps I saw in Camden, and a quick google shows there are lots of other cool ones on the internet as well! For example here and here.

If you decide to make your own, I’d love to see what you’re working on!

Thank you for the Cyberdog store images.

Nixie Tubes – Old But Awesome Technology

Have you ever seen the trademark amber glow of the Nixie Tube?

Nixie tubes have made a bit of a comeback by Makers and tinkerers of today’s tech — an old-school look with old-school innards using pretty simple technology to create some pretty spectacular results.  Nixie tube clocks, signs, and even Nixie tube wrist watches, as worn by Steve Wozniak:

For those of you nerds out there like me who HAVE TO KNOW MORE ABOUT WOZ’S NIXIE WATCH RIGHT NOW OMFG OCD LALALALAAAAAA, please check this video out!  Here’s Woz talking about scaring the crap out of his seatmates on flights as he changes the time zone!  The maker of this watch is Cathode Corner, and they are pretty freaking cool!

Ok, ok, enough about the watch.  Now as I was saying…  NIXIE TUBES!  In short, a Nixie tube is a little illuminator/signal tube that looks a lot like a vacuum tube but is actually a cold cathode discharge device with either digits in it or symbols.  If you’ve ever seen the very popular hacker device called a Nixie Clock (or Nixie Tube Clock), then you know what a Nixie tube looks like.  They’re pretty unmistakeable – a lot of vintage Russian gear from the 1960’s and 1970’s are filled with Nixie tubes for some reason.  They make such a beautiful display, it’s essentially a kind of neon discharge tube, but not really:

A side note – this entire article came from me wanting to know the origin of the term “Nixie” in reference to these tubes.  Nixie comes from a name that the draftsman working on the tube signal wrote down on his drafting plate – “NIX1,” for Numeric Indicator eXperimental #1.  As you can imagine, the nickname “Nixie” stuck, and the guy who owned the patent also patented the name “Nixie.”  WHY do I love this kind of knowledge?!

Nixie tubes are pretty simple technology that relies on cold cathode glow discharge technology, which is actually pretty cool!  I’m sure you’ve heard of cathodes (the place where electrons come from) and anodes (the place where electrons flow to) – this is extremely important in understanding how these Nixie tubes work.  The difference between a “hot” cathode and a “cold” cathode is basically in how the electrons move from the cathode to the anode.  Instead of using heat to release electrons from something in a vacuum (like in fluorescent tubes and HID lamps), in the case of cold cathode devices the electrons are released by manipulating the electrical field in a vacuum.  Now before this gets really crazy into field emissions and the Zener Effect (not to mention the Aston Dark Space and Positive Columns and Faraday’s Space and whatnot), it’s probably a good idea to simplify this a bit for brevity’s sake.

So, are you familiar with the way that tungsten-halogen lamps work?  Basically, the gas inside them is from the halogen group (I can still remember the mnemonic – ‘F, Cl, Br, I!!‘) at a high pressure vacuum, and the filaments are tungsten.  Gasses from the halogen group loves them some tungsten vapor fo sho, actually, which is why we use them together.  As the filament burns at incandescence, atoms of tungsten evaporate from the filament into gas (think of it as a metal gas because, well, it is) and they float around in this halogen family gas.  As the atoms of tungsten get near the considerably yet minutely cooler glass envelope of the lamp, they also cool down and are re-deposited on the envelope.  Consequently, this is why and how we are able to make T-H lamps last longer and put out higher amounts of light; the redepositing of the atoms back onto the filament helps lengthen its life by re-coating the filament with “fresh” atoms of tungsten.  This is called the T-H life cycle.

I didn’t explain the tungsten-halogen lamp because the Nixie and the T-H lamp are similar; I wanted to put a picture in your head about how atoms (and smaller subatomics) travel inside of a vacuum environment.  In a really simplified explanation of how the Nixie tubes work, look at this great image of a discombobulated Nixie lamp, courtesy of the awesome people at the Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories:

Nixie Tube

See the mesh?  That’s the anode, or the positively charged part.  The numbers themselves, each one in the stack there, is an individual cathode, or the negatively charged part.  Electrons and ions travel from the cathode to the anode (remember ACID and CCD to remember current flow – Anode Current Into Device and Cathode Current Departs).  Inside the Nixie tube, there is a gas – typically one of the Noble gasses group of elemental gasses – that exists in low pressure inside the tube.  When the anode and cathode are given a potential difference in charge, the gas atoms get all angry and split up into negatively charged electrons and positively charged ions.  The ions are attracted to the negative cathode, and the electrons are attracted of course to the positively charged anode.  As these ions go slamming into the cathode, something really interesting takes place — atoms of metal from the cathode are basically knocked out of the cathode in a process called sputtering.  This sputtering of the metal atoms is literally caused by these ions slamming into the cathode.  Imagine breaking a rack of billiard balls with a cue ball — make sense now?

Once the sputtered metal atoms are knocked loose and are flying around, there are also some electrons flying around, too.  The electrons don’t have enough speed or energy to do much with the metal atoms floating close to the cathode (the number itself), so this weird little dark space called the Aston Dark Space (aka the Cathode Dark Space) takes place close to the cathode.  It’s weird, but you can actually see it – look closely at this Crookes Dark Space Tube:

See the dark spaces right at the center?  There is a small round cathode at the middle of that tube, and the dark space occurs right around it.  The larger dark spaces on either side of the bright “ball” of light at the center of the Crookes tube is something else, called the Faraday Dark Space.  Here’s another example, this one a diagram:

What’s cool about this glow outside of the Cathode Dark Space is what happens to make the glow happen — the electrons gain some speed and energy as they travel towards the positively charged anode (the mesh cage in the case of the Nixie Tube), and at a point outside of the Aston (or Cathode) dark space, they have enough energy and speed to cause a strong collision with the metal atoms sputtered away from the cathode.  When this happens, *PRESTO* — we have the release of a photon which causes light!

I think these Nixie Tubes are quite awesome.  Some history on the Nixie Tube’s patent and development:

The early Nixie displays were made by a small vacuum tube manufacturer called Haydu Brothers Laboratories, and introduced in 1955 by Burroughs Corporation, who purchased Haydu and owned the name Nixie as a trademark.  […] Similar devices that functioned in the same way were patented in the 1930s, and the first mass-produced display tubes were introduced in 1954 by National Union Co. under the brand name Inditron. However, their construction was cruder, their average lifetime was shorter, and they failed to find many applications due to their complex periphery.

Burroughs even had another Haydu tube that could operate as a digital counter and directly drive a Nixie tube for display. This was called a “Trochotron”, in later form known as the “Beam-X Switch” counter tube; another name was “magnetron beam-switching tube”, referring to their similarity to a cavity magnetron. Trochotrons were used in the UNIVAC 1101 computer, as well as in clocks and frequency counters.

The first trochotrons were surrounded by a hollow cylindrical magnet, with poles at the ends. The field inside the magnet had essentially-parallel lines of force, parallel to the axis of the tube. It was a thermionic vacuum tube; inside were a central cathode, ten anodes, and ten “spade” electrodes. The magnetic field and voltages applied to the electrodes made the electrons form a thick sheet (as in a cavity magnetron) that went to only one anode. Applying a pulse with specified width and voltages to the spades made the sheet advance to the next anode, where it stayed until the next advance pulse. Count direction was not reversible. A later form of trochotron called a Beam-X Switch replaced the large, heavy external cylindrical magnet with ten small internal metal-alloy rod magnets which also served as electrodes.

I found a lot of really amazing resources on the Nixie tube.  I had to post some of it, this stuff is amazing, and there are a LOT of really big fans!

American Nixies from Sphere Research:

Russian Nixies from Sphere Research:

Thanks to Nature, Dribble, Wikipedia (ions), Wikipedia (electrostatic discharge), Wikipedia (field electron emission), TeslaTech, and Steve Wozniak for being awesome.  

Laser Goofing, JimOnLight Style

I was a fairly big laser nerd before I met Rick Hutton, but after becoming friends with THAT mega-nerd, I have begun to really get into lasers and the whole use of coherent light.  I think one of the highlights of 2011 so far was hitting Photonics West with Ocean Optics and SeaChanger and walking the laser show floor with Rick.  You see, I see the term mega-nerd as about the best compliment you could give a person.

I have been goofing a bit with my 1W blue (445nm), my 10mW HeNe (632.8nm), and a Coherent Radius 405 (violet, 405nm) I picked up pretty cheap on eBay.  I also have a ton of amazing optics and bench components that I was given by the great folks at InLight Gobos and Laser Surplus Sales.  I want to make some fun art with the stuff that I have, and as I acquire more, and one of these days I’ll save up and get a 5W Argon laser (oh HELL yes) and I’ll build some crazy system of galvos and any other crackadelic thing I can come up with to occupy my non-working, non-sleeping time.

I can’t afford the several thousand dollars for a decent laser breadboard for my hobby, so I pulled a DIY and built my own out of two chunks of fine-grade pine that I glued together and fastened with a few large gauge fasteners.  It cost me about 40 bucks total, which is a lot less than $1977.74, let me tell you.  I have about a 16th of an inch deflection over the course of the surface of the table, a grid of holes drilled on one inch centers over a 24″ x 60″.

Just a few teaser shots – I’m oretty bummed at the loss of my DSLR, my little 12MP Elph just ain’t cutting it with this specific wavelength photography:


Holy sh*t I love lasers. Wear your laser safety glasses, kids!

Fire-Tempered Lexan Light Art

I was so excited to get a link today from my pal and Master Crafter Connie, the maker of the JimOnLight.com Puppet!  Remember that little guy?!

Totally not what this post is about, but CONNIE ROCKS!

Check out the link that Connie sent – Lexan light art in the form of light sources shining though a fire-tempered Lexan diffuser thingus.  Yes, thingus, it’s a proficient technical term.  Of COURSE though, after seeing these shots, I went and looked up the refractive indices for Lexan, of course I did.  It’s somewhere between 1.4 and 1.56.


If you decide to recreate something like this for your own personal enjoyment, make sure that YOU DO NOT BREATHE BURNING LEXAN.  Its smoke is highly, highly toxic.

Thanks, Recyclart!  What a cool website you have!

Soldering is Easy – A Comic for Beginners!

Have you seen this awesome, fun little learner’s comic on soldering?  Mitch Altman, Andie Nordgren, and Jeff Keyzer from Hacked Gadgets are responsible for this little bit of beginner soldering mastery!  Check it out, visit the PDF link here, and the original post here.  Learn to solder, you never know when you have to solder that blue wire onto the red one!